Hundreds of janitors and union workers gathered in front of Bovard Auditorium and marched down Trousdale Parkway on Thursday afternoon to protest possible changes to their contracts and to make their voices heard as negotiations draw to a close.
USC’s janitors are contracted through an outside company, Aramark. The university’s current contract with Aramark ends Friday at midnight and workers said current negotiations for the renewed contract include improved health care benefits.
“Our priority is health insurance,” said David Mendoza, an Aramark-contracted employee who has been working on campus for 14 years. “They need to pay our complete insurance.”
According to Service Employees International Union member Raphael Leib, who led the rally and procession down Trousdale, workers hope the new contract will require a flat co-payment of $10 for most medical visits rather than a percentage of total medical costs. This change would also apply to their families.
“There are a lot of issues going on that affect us as working people,” Leib said. “Policies that affect working people affect their families as well.”
Sociology associate professor Veronica Terriquez, who has researched labor rights, said the janitor’s union has been instrumental in helping shape the fight for better working conditions throughout Los Angeles for the past 20 years, but there is a still a struggle for fair rights.
“I hope they get a fair contract and get what they deserve,” Terriquez said. “Health care is critical for people who do such hard work. It’s physically demanding and puts them in contact with dangerous chemicals.”
Jose Ramirez, who has been working on campus for 13 years, said the need for improved health care goes beyond just physical medical needs. He wants to see benefits comparable to those of other university employees.
“People get in accidents because of psychological pressure on the job,” he said. “We want to get the best we can for our workers. We’re trying to get the same coverage for medical, visual and dental insurance.”
Details of the new contract were not available to workers and union members at the time of the protest, but other complaints include consideration of salary and tuition benefits for children of Aramark-contracted janitors who work on-campus.
“We live check-by-check,” said Salvador Hernandez, who has been working on campus for 21 years. “USC can afford this program. Why are they going to strangle us [in negotiations]?”
Leib said part of the goal of protesting was to make the USC faculty and students more aware of their grievances.
“We’re members of the USC community,” he said. “We deserve the same respect.”
Several students attended the rally to show their support in the new contract negotiations.
“I talked to one of [the workers]. They have to work limited hours and don’t get health care,” said sophomore psychology major Mayra Morales. “It’s kind of unfair.”
Junior neuroscience major Samantha Castillo said she is concerned that workers will lose some of the rights and benefits they already have.
“I know they were cutting a lot,” she said. “I don’t want them to cut down on anything they already have.”
University administration could not be reached for comment at press time.